When a person who smokes is diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things his or her doctor tells him or her to do is stop smoking. That’s because the relationship between smoking and many cancer types is well established. Now there is another incentive to snuff out that cigarette for good: less pain.
A new study published in the January, 2011 issue of Pain found evidence to suggest that cancer patients who keep smoking despite their diagnosis experience greater pain than cancer patients who quit smoking or those who have never smoked.
Texas A&M University Professor of Psychology, Joseph W. Ditre, the study’s lead investigator, found that smokers reported feeling more severe pain than their smoke-free counterparts. Smokers reported more often than nonsmokers that the pain was intense enough to interfere with their daily routine.
The cross-sectional study surveyed 224 patients with a range of cancer diagnoses and types in stages I to IV, who self-rated their pain severity, pain-related distress and pain-related interference. In the study, current smokers experienced the most pain, but the researchers found an inverse relationship for pain existed among former smokers, meaning the more time they had been smoke-free, the less pain they experienced.
The relationship between smoking and cancers of the head and neck, bladder, pancreas, lungs, breast, colon, kidney, cervical, stomach and acute myeloid leukemia has been well established. There may be relationships between other cancer types and smoking.
It’s no secret that smoking harms nearly every major organ in the body. The risk of developing smoking-related diseases, such as lung and other cancers, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses, dramatically increases the longer a person smokes, according to a 2004 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health.
Likewise, the earlier a person quits, the greater the health benefit. For example, according to the American Cancer Society, research has shown that people who quit before age 50 reduce their risk of dying in the next 15 years by half compared with those who continue to smoke.
While pointing out the complexities inherent in studies of the relationships among pain, cancer diagnoses, and nicotine addiction, Lori Bastian, MD, from Durham VA Medical Center and Department of Internal Medicine, Duke University wrote in an accompanying commentary, that “the major strength of this study is the diverse types of cancer and stage of the disease.”
"Preliminary findings suggest that smoking cessation will improve the overall treatment response and quality of life. Clinicians must do more to assist cancer patients to quit smoking after their diagnosis.” Bastian wrote.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHer, she pens Nonsmoking Nation, a blog following global tobacco news and events.
Sources: “Associations between pain and current smoking status among cancer patients” by Joseph W. Ditre, Brian D. Gonzalez, Vani N. Simmons, Leigh Anne Faul, Thomas H. Brandon, and Paul B. Jacobsen (DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.09.001).
“Pain and smoking among cancer patients: The relationship is complex but the clinical implication is clear” by Lori Bastian (DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.10.023). Both the article and its commentary appear in Pain, Volume 152, Issue 1 (January 2011).